ALTOONA — There’s no shortage of experience in the Altoona huddle.
For the past few years, the Railroaders have relied on players of all ages to get the job done. Whether he’s a senior or a freshman, any Altoona player on the varsity squad has had the chance to learn what it takes to play football at high school’s highest level.
That steady reliance on youth has bred a group that’s seasoned and aiming to turn experience into results after a few years learning the ropes.
Altoona brings back several starters with multiple years of varsity experience for new coach Chad Hanson. Those players are looking to improve on last year’s 1-8 showing.
“The group coming back is amazing. A lot of good guys, a lot of skilled guys,” senior running back and linebacker Paxton Gluch said. “For sure a talented group. It’ll be fun to play.”
The Railroaders finished in last place in the always-difficult Cloverbelt Conference last season. Improving against one of the state’s toughest small-school leagues won’t be easy, but it’s a challenge Altoona’s willing to embrace.
“It’s one heck of a conference,” said Hanson, who has spent 16 years as a head coach. “It’s a top-notch conference, so you’ve got to have your A-game week in, week out just to compete. In other conferences you can come in with your B-game and walk away with a win. Here, in this conference, you’ve got to play your A-game just to have a chance each week.”
The Railroaders return a handful of all-conference players who will try to help lead the squad through the gauntlet that is the Cloverbelt.
Gluch led the team in rushing and was a second team all-conference linebacker a year ago. Nathan McMahon saw time at quarterback and was an honorable mention all-league cornerback. Garret Steffen figures to anchor the line on both sides of the ball after earning honorable mention all-conference recognition as a defensive lineman last year.
Altoona’s hoping that those players will provide a core to build around while other guys step into larger roles. If so, Gluch said he thinks the team can compete on a weekly basis.
“There are good teams in the Cloverbelt, but I think we can be right there with them too,” he said.
Hanson has taken over the program following seven seasons at Eleva-Strum, his alma mater. He led the Cardinals to a 36-31 record and four playoff appearances over that span. Over the last five seasons, the Cardinals went 31-19.
Prior to coaching Eleva-Strum, Hanson was the head man for Greenwood/Granton. He guided that program to the 2011 Division 7 state championship.
Now he’ll take on one of his biggest challenges: righting the ship at Altoona.
“It’s all about building trust and getting the kids to understand that we’re here to be a football family first,” Hanson said. “That will result in our success on the field.”
The Railroaders debut a brand new synthetic turf field this year at Oakleaf Stadium. The athletic complex underwent a complete rework over the spring and summer, giving Altoona one of the top facilities in the region.
The home opener is set for August 30 when Cadott comes to town. There will be a grand opening celebration prior to kickoff that night. It’s the first of three straight home games for Altoona.
Coach: Chad Hanson, first year.
Last season: 1-8, 1-7.
Roster: SENIORS — Donovan Adrian, AB/DB; Nate McMahon, QB/DB; Collin Stuve, SE/DB; Jackson Anderson, QB/LB; Taylor Wenaas, AB/LB; Jakob Varsho, SE/DB; Paxton Gluch, BB/LB; Matt Hanson, TE/LB; Bryan Vang, OL/DL; Ray Marczinke, OL/LB Garret Steffen, OL/DL; Chaize Kruchowski, OL/DL; Andy Hoff, OL/DL.
JUNIORS — Mitchell Comeford, SE/DB; Xavier Schick, SE/DB; Orlando Gutierrez-Garcia, AB/DB.
SOPHOMORES — Marsten Salsbury-Parks, SE/DB; Caden Amidon, AB/LB; Jonah Oberholtzer, QB/LB; Elijah Loew, SE/DB; Connor Mattison, AB/DB; Dawson Sahm, AB/LB; Tanner Kircher, QB/LB; Brendan Bauman, OL/DL; Connor Steffen, OL/DL; Tyler Thommesen, OL/DL; Braxton Lang, OL/DL; Zander Rathke, OL/DL; Mason Huber, OL/DL; Alex Wood, OL/DL; Craig Ervin, OL/DL.
FRESHMEN — Ben Kuenkel, QB/LB; Zavondre Cole, AB/DB; Colin Boyarski, QB/LB; Elijah Jackson, AB/DB; Tommy Tomesh, AB/LB; Thorin Steele, BB/DE; Zackary Howell, BB/LB; Brandon Wagner, BB/LB; Landon Field, TE/LB; Damion Larson, OL/DL; Sebastian Schoenfuss, OL/DL; Isaiah Martin, OL/DL; Bryce Koenig, OL/DL; Connor Gordon, OL/DL; Riley Michels, OL/DL; Mathias Bowers, OL/DL; Jacob Koehler, SE/DB; Nathan Hansen, TE/OLB; Will Burr, SE/DB.
Aug. 23 — at Stanley-Boyd
Aug. 30 — Cadott
Sept. 6 — Colby
Sept. 13 — Fall Creek
Sept. 21 — at Regis
Sept. 27 — Neillsville/Granton
Oct. 4 — at Osseo-Fairchild
Oct. 11 — Elk Mound
Oct. 18 — at Spencer/Columbus
2018 results (1-8, 1-7)
Stanley-Boyd (L, 35, 20)
Cadott (W, 12-8)
Colby (L, 49-0)
Fall Creek (L, 42-8)
Regis (L, 35-0)
Neillsville/Granton (L, 14-7)
Osseo-Fairchild (L, 30-6)
Elk Mound (L, 61-0)
Spencer/Columbus (L, 49-20)